NEW LIGHT AND DARK SHADOWS AT WSI
In a Fargo Forum commentary on November 1 and Grand Forks Herald on November 4, I wrote about the seizure of a personal journal from the desk of WSI executive Mark Armstrong on the same day that a criminal charge against WSI (Workforce Safety and Insurance) Executive Director Sandy Blunt was dropped by the prosecutor.
I asked, “What was the probable cause to seize a personal and private journal?”
On November 15, The Forum obtained the transcript of Special Agent Mike Quinn’s (NDBCI) testimony used to establish probable cause for the warrant.
Quinn testified obtusely that he received copies of journal pages from James Long, WSI’s chief of support services who said he got the “notebook” from Armstrong’s office. Long said the notebook was in the center desk drawer of Armstrong’s desk.
The judge asked Quinn bluntly, “And did this person say that he had gone into someone’s private desk and taken something out and photocopied it?” Quinn responded, “Yes, ma’am.”
Quinn testified that two isolated sentences in the journal, open to interpretations bound only by one’s imagination, justified the warrant: “Got the secret documents out. Lengenfelder (friend of Armstrong) did the deed but ran into Dave Thompson (a reporter with North Dakota Public Radio) in the press room.”
Quinn testified, apparently referring to the two sentences: “…there is a notation in here that Mark Armstrong was involved with removing secret documents from Workforce Safety….” I think that interesting paraphrase of “Got the secret documents out,” which assumed illegal activity, and the prosecutor’s leading questions to a befuddled Quinn to try to establish a conspiracy theory that connected suspicions about earlier missing emails (said not missing by Bob Indvik, chairman of the WSI board) to the “secret documents” entry reflected the prosecution’s pre-existing mindset and wishful thinking, not the context of the entire journal. The journal contains several references to a media campaign to exonerate Blunt. I understood “out” to mean distributed, not taken from WSI, when I read the journal because of those references and the mention of the “press room.”
Mark Armstrong on November 15:
Q. Getting secret documents "out" could mean "out" of WSI or "out" as in "distributed." Which did you mean?
A. This was a joke reference. Sandy Blunt wanted the media to report on this story from his perspective. As a WSI employee I was prevented from discussing his case. So, I could not directly assist him in getting his story out. As a result, my good friend Kris Lengenfelder…agreed to deliver Sandy's documents that he created on his home computer about why the charges against him were bogus to the local media. We joked that he was like "Deep Throat" and the "carrying secret documents"...they were in no way anything created from WSI. When I saw the journal after it was seized and thankfully photo-copied to me by Detective Quinn I knew that reference was going to be misinterpreted. That's why I wanted to call a news conference about it.
Q Why do you think they needed a warrant to get the journal if they already had a copy?
A That a good question. I think because they knew they got it violating company policy and thought it best to get it "legally….”
Q As they had a copy of your journal, why do you think the officer didn't simply come and interview you about the passage in question?
A Good question.
Q Now that Mr. Long admits rifling your desk, what will happen from a disciplinary perspective? A He is not the one who admitted to doing that in our internal investigation, which was completed on Wednesday. Someone else said they did that, Kay Grinsteinner, the Internal Auditor. She said she entered my office without permission, took the journal, photo copied it and gave it to Jim Long.
Q I read the transcript again and it seems clear that Quinn identifies Long as the person who took the journal from your desk? Why the difference between his testimony and the internal report?
A. Good question.
The findings of the WSI report of investigation prepared by Rob Forward, WSI staff attorney say, in part:
“Kay Grinsteinner entered Mark Armstrong’s office without permission on the evening of October 15 or 16, 2007, and searched it for specific items. She found his journal, which she was not searching for, in his desk drawer. She was concerned about its contents so she ran a copy of it and returned the journal to Mark’s desk. Kay gave a copy of the journal to Jim Long. On the day that Kay searched Mark’s office, she went home at the end of her regular work-day and later returned around 7pm with the specific intent of entering Mark’s office when no one was around.”
Grinsteinner admitted the above in a signed summary of her interview with Forward dated November 13, 2007. No concerns on her part justify her actions, which destroyed her credibility as a whistleblower.
Long told Forward he got the journal from Grinsteinner—documented and signed in his summary of interview. That is not what agent Quinn testified to. Did Long lie to Quinn?
I believe four things:
The prosecutors try too hard to get Blunt and damage their credibility.
Some whistleblowers need to have the whistle blown on them; they must be held accountable for their actions.
I don’t want to be one of agent Quinn’s secret informants—exposed for all to see.
If Quinn’s flimsy testimony justified a search warrant, we all better clean out our offices.
PS: Jim Long was placed on administrative leave on November 15, 2007.
Investigator and whistle-blower Todd Flanagan was fired on December 5, 2007
CEO Sandy Blunt was fired on December 6, 2007
A request for services is made for organizational consultants to submit proposals to look
at WSI management, human resources, and claims processes.